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My Question: Hi There, I am trying to get some clarity on some nutrition issues.

1) I know well that a lot of sunflower is not good, but there seems to be a big move totally against sunflower.(my birds get about 10-15% of their diet as sunflower.) Is this move totally against sunflower just the "in" thing, or is there good research behind it?

2) Vegetables are seen as more beneficial than fruit, but i have never seen a wild parrot or a photo of one eating vegetables. Fruit, grains, nuts, blossoms and bark, yes, but never vegetables. why are vegetables preferred for captive birds, is it to compensate for foods missing in a captive diet, or do captive birds just not need the quick energy boost fruit provides as much as wild birds, or is it something else?

3) What is your opinion on palm oil? (apart from the fact that parrot habitat is destroyed to create space for the palm plantations.) I do feed pellets, but I don't like diets of pellets only.

Thanks.
Bruce

Answered by Glenn Reynolds:

Hello Bruce, thanks for your questions.

First off I think we need to understand that we can’t feed a captive parrot in the same manner that a parrot would feed in the wild. Captive parrots don’t have the same caloric requirements because they don’t forage long distances for food and are really, in the best of circumstances, sedate as compared to free flying parrots. Moreover we need to consider that there are vast differences in the foods that wild parrots eat, generally determined by their geographical location, and we simply don’t have access to many of those foods. We need to consider that many captive parrots don’t have the same access to natural light and fresh air, which plays into their dietary requirements, as compared to their wild counterparts. That brings me to the very important point that there are big differences in the nutritional requirements of a parrot and the dietary requirements of an individual captive parrot. Husbandry practices play a big role in what your parrot needs to eat to reach its optimal nutritional health, which is based on much more than what species of parrot it is. You need to work your particular husbandry practices into the equation. Even the average temperature in a given situation can result in different dietary requirements of a captive parrot. Parrots kept in cool places will need more fat in their diets than parrots kept in a warmer environment. As temperatures fall a parrot's metabolism speeds up to burn more fat to keep it warm. As temperatures rise a parrot's metabolism slows down because it doesn't need to burn as much fat to stay warm. As a result, parrots kept in cooler environments will generally eat more food and in doing so also take in more nutrient because of the higher intake. Parrots kept in a warmer environment will not eat as much and may not be taking in enough nutrient if the diet is not nutrient concentrated. For example, a Moluccan Cockatoo kept indoors in New York will have notably different dietary requirements than a Moluccan Cockatoo kept in an outdoor aviary in Florida in order to reach the same level of nutritional health. These two circumstances present dramatic differences in exposure to natural light, fresh air, and average temperature, which individually or collectively will vary the dietary needs of a captive parrot.

I am sure we could do a better job at looking at some of their natural foods and trying to emulate the amino acid and fatty acid profiles, and other nutrient levels contained in those foods, yet keep the overall percentage of fat to a minimum as required by most captive parrots. When you do think about the expansive differences in diets wild parrots eat around the world it really is a wonder that we have come as far as we have in such a short time with minimal research as compared to commercial livestock and poultry. The best an individual can do is try to provide a base diet to meet known nutrient requirements for parrots in general, while keeping in mind the parameters and/or limitations of their husbandry practices, and then educate themselves on what their particular parrot needs that’s different.

The push against sunflower seed has been around for decades, and I think there are a lot of motives. I am sure the safflower industry would rather see you feeding your birds safflower. I also think the pelleted diet industry would rather see you feeding your birds pellets rather than any kind of seed.

There are a few of things I believe do have relevance in the argument. One is the high fat content of sunflower seed. On average a dried sunflower seed is about 36% fat. Another issue is that sunflower seed, as well as many of the other seed in parrot seed mixes and peanuts, go rancid rapidly and can be a perfect medium for growing aspergillus, which is a species of mold. Rancidity can result in a whole list of issues that may or may not fall under the label of aflatoxins. Aflatoxins are mycotoxins or toxic chemical byproducts of molds. Alfatoxins are amoung the most carcinogenic substances known to man. Aspergillus is ubiquitous, but can infect parrots, especially a compromised parrot. Aspergillus infections are generally secondary to other health, dietary, or husbandry issues. Aspergillus is extremely difficult to treat even when caught early. Last but not least, in order to try and give our captive parrots the broadest spectrum of fatty acids as possible the fat in their diets needs to come from a variety of foods which should have different fatty acid profiles. If we are using seed mixes, even in the smallest amounts, the fatty acid profile is most likely very limited. A variety of nuts can provide a much better source of fat.

Referring back to points made in the first paragraph, vegetables in a captive parrot’s diet provide a much broader spectrum of nutrients than fruits. Fruits are mainly water and sugar with some vitamins and minerals, vitamin C being one most likely found. Since healthy parrots produce vitamin C in their gut supplementation is generally not necessary; although, may be beneficial for young, growing, or compromised parrots. Personally, I don’t think berries get enough inclusion in the captive parrot diet, as they are packed with nutrients and antioxidants.

Palm oils are one of those foods we should look at that can provide some of the complex fatty acid profiles wild parrots consume in order to better feed our captive parrots. You need to be very careful of the source though. All fats are prone to rancidity if not properly stored. Fatty acids are very heat sensitive, so the manner in which the palm oil is stored and in which your parrot eats it plays into the equation. Using palm oils in cooked bird breads and muffins most likely does a lot of damage to the nutrients you are trying to provide in using them in the first place. I am fortunate enough to have access to fresh palm nuts, and I think it is the best way to get palm oil into your parrot. Another observation is that you generally see wild parrots eating palm fruit when it’s still green, prior to ripening, and the nutritional make up may be significantly different than the completely ripe palm fruit currently found on the market for parrot consumption and used to make most of the palm oils readily available today.

filed under: Health and Nutrition

We have a mold problem in our bathroom in our home We been advised to uses a product called Sporicidin to treat the wood sub-floor. The main ingredient is phenol. The birds we be relocated while the product is being used. Our question is can the Sporicidin out gas in the future can be any harm to our birds once the product is dried. If phenol is not safe to use around our birds, what product do you recommend if the Sporicidin isn't safe to use?

Thanks.
Lori A. Buch

Answered by Ellen K. Cook, D.V.M.:

Hi Lori- Phenol is an excellent disinfectant, but the fumes from it can be quite harmful to our companion parrots. While using this compound, I recommend removing the birds from the premises for several hours. When the Sporicidin is completely dry, ventilate the house well (fans/open windows) before returning the birds. Good luck!

Ellen K. Cook, DVM

filed under: Health and Nutrition

Last week, my eight year old sun conure, Rainbow, recently laid two eggs. I am a first-time parrot owner, and we'd always assumed she was a male, so this was surprising for her human flock-members. But more pertinently: the eggs were soft--they crumpled. Clearly, there were some issues with what I was feeding her! She's always had access to a wide variety of fresh veggies and fruits, cooked food, seeds, and pellets. But I note now how she really favored the seed, and favored the safflower seeds in the mix over everything else. She has remained healthy, active, hungry, and
affectionate.

Here's what I've done:
-- consulted an avian vet, who kindly explained the cause of the soft eggs, but said that unless she was sitting on the bottom of her cage, fluffed up and immobile, I needn't bring her in. Sheesh.
-- constructed a nest with dummy eggs and the ones she laid. She has little interest in the nest; her only interaction with it was to cover the eggs with nesting material. She does not sit in the nest or attend to it; I plan to remove it in a few weeks after the usual incubation period has elapsed.
-- began adding Quiko daily multivitamin to her water. She also has access to pure water; she prefers the multivitamin. Do you have a recommendation for a really high-quality supplement of this sort?
-- put 1/8 tsp. powdered bone meal in some of her warm foods, in addition to making sure her fresh diet has a better showing of calcium-rich foods: veggies like broccoli and collard greens; scrambled egg with shell; almonds and sesame seeds. But how much calcium is too much? Should I be feeding it in correlation with other foods that help with the absorption of it?
-- put her pellets and seeds in different dishes, so I can monitor what she's eating of what. Also, began offering only a small amount of seed once a day (but didn't want to cut that out all at once), to which she has responded by eating a larger variety of other foods.
-- changed the location and arrangement of her cage, and some of the toys
-- began covering her for the night earlier, so she's getting close to 12 hours light/12 hours dark
-- ceased to allow any regurgitation behaviors with me, her primary caregiver, and started emphasizing flock time with the whole family (which is a small little flock--just two humans and her!).

Perhaps as a result of these changes, perhaps not, she has ceased to lay eggs. With all that background in mind, here is my primary question: are these the appropriate things to be doing for her right now?

Also, what is a really good resource for information on the species-specific sun conure diet? I am curious about the digestive system, and the reproductive system, of these marvelous creatures who are so
different from, well, mammals. In short, I¹d like to learn more about psittacine physiology and health, but don't know where to start. What should I read?

Thanks!

Answered by Ellen K. Cook, D.V.M.:

Thanks for this great and timely question! Spring time often, with increased daylight hours, increased reproductive activity in wild birds and the plentiful food we give our parrots, will stimulate egg-laying in our companion birds. I have had many a caregiver discover that their male parrot is, indeed, a female when they are surprised by an egg.

Egg laying is a tremendous metabolic drain on our parrots' bodies; they are not chickens! Plus, birds can develop serious reproductive and metabolic diseases from repeated egg-laying. You have already followed most of my recommendations for controlling this process with Rainbow. If 70% or more of the bird's diet is a high quality pelleted diet, I normally do not advise calcium or other supplementation, but always follow the specific recommendations of your bird's veterinarian. I prefer to supplement calcium with foods (as you are already doing) and not bone meal, so I do not worry about oversupplementation. Fresh foods fed are primarily sprouted seed and veggies, with smaller amounts of fruit. Seeds and nuts are less than 5% of the daily ration and are used only in teaching/training, only given by hand (not in the food bowl) as special treats. Reducing the fat levels in the diet, decreasing daylight hours and removing toys and/or petting which is sexually stimulating will generally reduce egg-laying. I advise removing the eggs as they are laid, especially with birds who show no interest in the eggs. Occasionally, it is better to leave eggs with those individual birds who sit on them.

With over 350 species of parrots in the world, there is obviously much to learn about specific dietary requirements. Much of the current information regarding psittacine nutrition is anecdotal and unreliable. Research is currently being done in several species. There are some excellent articles on health and nutrition in the World Parrot Trust's online reference library. Another reliable online resource is at http://www.wingwise.com.

You have already done some good research; I applaud your willingness to provide the best care for Rainbow!
Ellen K. Cook, DVM

filed under: Health and Nutrition

I’ve recently adopted a Blue Fronted Amazon named Bella. She’s 6 years old and from what I know of her history she’s been with two families, the first sold her because they had a baby and the second had her for 2 years and they were kind to her but didn’t know much about parrots. The woman was concerned as she couldn’t spend the time with her and noticed that she was getting quieter and non-active. That’s when I adopted her noticing right away that she has a slow wobble and cannot hang onto her perch properly. I have notice though that she can climb around the bars
really well so that’s reassuring. They said she’s always been this way but has gotten worse as she used to be able to hold food in her foot but not anymore as when she tries she starts wobbling and loses her balance; every time she walks it’s a huge effort for her. The previous owner noticed her getting depressed but I’m more concerned about her health and whether or not she’s going to live. I’ve made a vet appointment for a week from now because she’s eating (maybe not as much as she should) and drinking a bit so I don’t think it’s an emergency. I also want her to get used to her new place before putting her under added stress. This vet is not an avian specialist as I would prefer but I’ve heard he’s had some experience with parrots. I live in a small town and the closest Avian Vet is hours away, also they are extremely expensive which I cannot afford.

Have you heard or seen anything like this before in a parrot? I’m trying to search on Google but so far cannot piece together an answer. She also hasn’t vocalized much since I got her but it might be because she’s in new surroundings.

Any help or suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Thanks.
Starla

Answered by Ellen K. Cook, D.V.M.:

Hi Starla- Thanks for adopting this parrot in need. I am quite concerned about her symptoms. The "wobbliness" could be caused by any number of problems from arthritis to cancer or anything in between. She really needs to be seen by an avian veterinarian as soon as possible.

Birds are masters at disguising symptoms of illness and sometimes a delay of even a day or two can be disastrous. Her best chance is to take her to a knowledgeable avian veterinarian now-tomorrow may be too late!

Good luck, keep us posted.

Ellen K. Cook, DVM

filed under: Health and Nutrition

Dear EB, My parrot's beak seams to be splitting well part of it is coming off as though she chews on wood and breaks part of it. Is this natural or is this a vitamin deficiency? She gets vitamins in her water everyday, although she is still eating a parrot seed mixture as she wont eat fixed parrot food. She nibbles on some of the fixed parrot food but not steady yet. She also gets fresh fruit every day with fresh vegetables. Thanks in advance - Angela Barrett

Answered by E.B. Cravens:

Dear Angela, Ideally a veterinarian would answer this question. But I will give a try at offering what I have learned.

Parrot beaks grow from the base growth plate in layers, wearing off at the tip and being replenished from back and below. It is normal to have flaking and layers of keratin apparent, but too much dryness or brittleness indicate a metabolic problem. In most cases, the birds we have encountered were being fed an unbalanced diet which affected the bill indirectly.

Too much dryness as in extruded diets without sufficient omega fatty acids was one problem--often encountered in African species. Too much dry seed, especially of the safflower variety was another cause in smaller parrots.

We would begin giving such parrots a fresh raw, cooked and sprouted diet of pulses and buckwheat, lentils, mung beans, hemp seeds, etc, and adding some flax oil droplets or virgin olive oil drops onto the daily fare to increase oil intake. Vegetables are much more important than fruits, and you must make pieces small enough that the bird cannot just throw them out of a food bowl. Over a six week period, sometimes less, results would indicate a beak that became more malleable and shiny looking.

Increase amounts of nuts in the diet may help also. there is some evidence that dryness and beak problems could be related to liver function. Be sure the seeds that your bird gets are of highest quality--organic from the health food store if possible. Canary seed and spray millet are some of the best from the farm and pet store shelves.

Most vitamins that are added to drinking water are less effective than powdered vitamins sprinkled on wet food and fruits and veggies. Parrots drink minimal amounts of water to assimilate such vitamins, especially, should the vitamins make the water colored or change its taste appreciably. Also water tends to oxidize the additives and make them relatively useless after an hour or so, while any minerals settle to the bottom and are not consumed.

A small amount of high grade vitamin E squeezed from a capsule (200 iu) and gently rubbed on the beak offers a short term aid to serious flaking. Humidity in the environment should be increased, slightly, especially in the case of Eclectus, Amazons, Pionus, etc.

When you ask a question, it really helps to give the species, age and gender of your bird so that a more informative answer may be given.

I hope a vet can expound upon this rather subjective reply, so that you and all readers may benefit.

With aloha, EBC

filed under: Health and Nutrition

Hi, My latest information from WWF is that Carnaby's Black Cockatoo in South Western Australia is in trouble with recent fires and extreme weather causing many deaths. This endangered parrot is in danger of being wiped out. Do you have any new information on this situation?
Thanks,
Rachel Cassidy

Answered by WPT Administrator:

Hi Rachel, thank you for your great question! We've asked Birds Australia to comment, as they have has an ongoing conservation program for the birds for many years. Here is the reply we received from Cheryl Gole, Manager, Important Bird Areas Project - Birds Australia

"...Despite the fact that a number of Carnaby’s Black-Cockatoos have been killed or injured in severe weather events in the last few months, the species is not highly localized, so the impact on the species as a whole was not immediately critical. Across its range, the species is declining; it has disappeared from approximately one third of its historic range.

Birds Australia WA initiated a Carnaby’s Black-Cockatoo Recovery Project in 2001 and, in one form or another, the project has continued ever since. Some, but not all, of the project history and current action is captured on the Birds Australia WA website here: http://www.birdsaustralia.com.au/our-projects/carnabys-black-cockatoo-recovery.html

Carnaby’s Black-Cockatoo is a south west Australia endemic. Two other south west endemic parrot species (full species, not sub-species) are also under threat: Baudin’s Black-Cockatoo is now listed as Vulnerable under Australian Government legislation. Western Ground Parrot, formerly thought to be a sub-species, is now recognized as one of Australia’s most endangered birds. Not yet listed under the Australian Government’s EPBC Act, it is listed under Western Australian State legislation as Critically Endangered..."

We expect to receive additional details soon and will post the information here upon our receipt.

Many thanks again,
Best, Steve Milpacher - WPT Webmaster

filed under: Conservation

Hi! I need advice, My husband gave me an Australian King Parrot about a year ago and he appears to be fine, but this morning I found him dead, What are the possibilities of death by temperature changes, he was inside the house and the room temperature was 72F, my husband said that he needed to be in a higher temperature setting.

Thank you
Nancy

Answered by Ellen K. Cook, D.V.M.:

Hi Nancy, I am sorry for the loss of your parrot. Unfortunately, due to birds' phenomenal ability to disguise symptoms of illness, we see far too many sudden, unexplained deaths in our companion parrots. Often, birds can have advanced disease and still be eating, active and appear perfectly normal. The only way to diagnose the possible cause of death in your bird is for a qualified avian veterinarian to perform a necropsy (the animal equivalent of an autopsy).

A normal, healthy parrot can live in far cooler temperatures because their down feathers provide excellent insulation. In fact, birds can better tolerate lower rather than higher environmental temperatures. I keep my birds in 60-65F temperature and this is what I recommend to my clients. If a bird is sick, they do need to be kept warmer. I would guess that being too cold was NOT the cause of your bird's death.

I recommend to my clients that they weigh their parrots weekly: a 5% drop in weight is enough to be cause for concern. I also stress the importance of an annual physical examination as a way to prevent or diagnose disease before it becomes too serious.

filed under: Health and Nutrition

Hello Dr.Speer, My regent parrot had his wings clipped when I got him. He is 9 months old now and the primary feathers have grown out on only one wing. I am concerned that they have not grown on the other wing.
Could this be a medical problem?

Answered by Dr. Brian Speer, DVM:

In many psittacines of this size or larger, the juvenile moult is first completed (in my experience) in the 6-10 month age group or so. It is possible that your bird still may get there. One of the spin-off problems that occurs with some of the types of wing trims that are performed in young birds, is that the stage is set for falling, recurring trauma and a secondary inhibition of pinfeather re-growth. If this is a persistent observation in this bird after another few months, I would certainly recommend a physical examination.

filed under: Health and Nutrition

Dear Dr. Speer, I have a female Seram Cockatoo of unknown age. I have had her for over 10 years. She is a very healthy bird who gets annual bloodwork and chem panels that have never shown an indication of illness. One thing that bothers me is
that her feet have always been very dry, to the point of cracking. To resolve this issue I soak her feet in aloe and water and then massage lanolin into them. The past 5 years or so I have noticed that she is getting white splotches on her nails. We (my vet and I) can not determine what the cause can be. They almost look like "bubbles" under her top layer of her nails. Her diet consists of Harrison's Hi-Po, organic fresh and/or frozen veggies daily (focusing on high beta-carotene foods such as carrots, sweet potatoes, etc) and fruit 2 times a week. She gets a total of about a 1/4 cup of mixed nuts in the shell weekly.She also gets Avix Sunshine Factor every other day. She gets showered every other day in filtered water from a shower-head
i specifically bought for my birds which removes the chlorine via activated carbon. As a "final rinse" after the shower she is very lightly misted w/ avix soother. Her feathers are gorgeous and she no longer plucks like she did when I first got her. She is fully flighted. The humidity in their room is set at 50%. She gets natural sunlight every other day (weather permitting) for a min of 2 hours. I thought I once read that white spots on the nails can be a sign of illness or deficiency, so even though she seems healthy I find myself obsessing over these white spots. My other Seram cockatoo does not have these. Is there a possibility that this is her natural nail make up? I notice she has other things I have never seen on other Seram cockatoos such
as black "eyelash" follicles. What are your opinions? Do you have any testing, feeding or environmental suggestions?

Answered by Dr. Brian Speer, DVM:

Sunny - alone, those color changes in the nails to not necessarily concern me too much. This could be secondary to the primary process that is causing the drdy and cracking issues on the feet (I do not really see this in the photos), mechanical trauma issues caused by the bird, or the topical medications you have been applying to the feet and nails. If the skin lesions are progressive, I'd suggest you ask your veterinarian to consider further investigation, but otherwise, would not necessarily recommend a "jump" to treatment or detailed diagnostic investigation (yet)

filed under: Health and Nutrition

Dear Phoebe, I have two questions. Firstly I have a Hahn's macaw (Einstein) and a Sun Conure (Gizmo), I stopped clipping their wings about a year ago. Gizmo doesn’t fly much at all, but Einstein is becoming very handy with his wings and is able to maneuver around the house very well. The problem is about a week ago an Ibis flew past a window and frightened them, in a panic Einstein flew across the room so fast that he flew into the opposite wall (I would never have believed a parrot could fly so fast if I hadn't seen it myself), luckily he was not injured, but I am concerned that if it happens again we may not be so lucky.

Is there a way to clip his wings to reduce his speed without having a huge effect on his maneuverability, or is there something else I could try to slow him down? I don’t want to deprive him of flight unless it is absolutely necessary for his safety (and as soon as money allows I will be building an outdoor flight about 3m x 9m).

Second question. PTFE fumes. Are they only a problem with Teflon and similar coatings or are enamel and ceramic coatings also a problem? I recently found a 'green pan' that is ceramic coated and claims 'no PTFE or PFOA' and 'no toxic fumes', is this safe for birds, or is it better just to stick to good old stainless steel?

Thanks, Bruce Wilson

Answered by Phoebe Green Linden:

Hi Bruce, We are so excited to get in on the flight action with you, Gizmo and Einstein. Bonnet (one of my wonderful avian companions) and I are also amidst flight explorations and we, like you, have had our share of lucky-and-we-don’t-want-to-push-it experiences with parrots in flight in the house. So, we're with you and we'll be ready to fly in a moment.

First, good question on the pans. In order to keep it simple, I stay with stainless and well-seasoned cast iron pieces, then abide by simple reminders: use veggies and olive oil, avoid overcooking, and ventilate for clean cooking and air that's parrot-healthy.

Our first question is for Gizmo, as in what's up with the not flying very much, buddy? We've seen your cousins zoom around like gleaming banners crossing paths in mid-air and landing fast in order to turn tummy to sky for Sun Conuring. Bruce, as the human, you probably need to check in with Giz to see what kind of physical activities he’d like to check out to further his psittacine-physicality. Maybe Gizmo likes stretching – what is his full range of motion? – or big flapping hops from this cool place to a new cool parrot place. Bonnet says, think flock habitat expansion, Bruce – parrots love habitat. Set up a great place for Gizmo to do his wing-beats and let’s see what happens.

Einstein is indeed a genius and you must be super excited to be sharing space and consciousness with such an amazing parrot. Do you know that “Hanh's” stands for “His Honor”? I just made that up, but it seems right, doesn't it? Anyway, an Ibis flying across one's fields of vision is a flap-worthy event, so Einstein was acting like a parrot when he took off in response. The wall is the problem, not Einstein's wings. Bonnet wants to know, will you knock out the wall when you build the aviary?

In the meantime, survey the habitat as if from Einstein's point of view, taking in to consideration the picture window and its often still-except-when-moving, sometimes surprising, views. As you see what he sees, wait a while, fit into that habitat, relax and try it on for size, Hahn's size. Some changes to Einstein and Gizmo’s environments will be obvious, and those you should make right away. Others will reveal themselves over time and yet others will be inspired by their increasing athleticism.

Bonnet and I also enjoy quiet moments together in front of windows especially when she gets to show me something humans might otherwise miss. You and Einstein can together experience lots of different interesting views, so put some time into looking.

Additionally, create more and more suitable parrot-specific landing places for your budding athletes. Table-top perches, a weighted basket on top of the refrigerator, a trusty chair back – all are great. Bolt-worthy events will happen. When you and your parrots are all comfortable that there’s a variety of safe landing spaces that all competently access, flight is no longer twisted with fright.
Bruce, have you watched PollyVision with your parrots? If not, we recommend it!! Here we see parrots really flying and acting like parrots and here we get our best decorating tips, too.

All best, Phoebe and Bonnet

filed under: Parrot Care

Dear EB, Have you ever encountered a hybrid between a Timneh and a Congo Grey Parrot? The pet store near here has one (they say), which is just now being fledged and looks like a Congo, at least right now with very few feathers, etc. They also have a parasol cockatoo, which apparently is a cross between a umbrella and a Goffin (she's about 25 percent larger than a Goffin and has
the coloration of an unbrella, with an umbrella crest. What are the ethical questions, if any of bringing these animals into the world? On one hand, if they are not found in nature, then perhaps we are wadding too deep into the gene pool, so to speak. But, of course, there are other hybrids out there that are taken for granted. Then again, these hybrids may not be able to reproduce.

Thanks, Bill C.

Answered by E.B. Cravens:

Dear Bill,

I am probably not the best person to be answering this question, and I would welcome comments from Jamie or Dr. Speer, Sam Williams or Eva Sargent or others. We have encountered hybrid cockatoos in the past; and have hard about Greys being interbred.

There are, of course ethical questions involved--as there are in most areas of the live animal trade. I do not personally approve of hybridization between species of psittacine, nor of subspecies interbreeding when the types are known to be different, though the latter happened all to often in the past between races of parrots that were thought to be identical or mistaken for the same subspecies.

An interesting quote from Catherine A. Toft, Department of Zoology, University of California-Davis:

"Hybridization is the fastest and surest way to destroy the genetic make-up of a species. It breaks up complexes of genes that allow species to be adapted to their natural environment and to be recognized as potential mates."

Many rationale have been used over the years as justification by those breeders who produce hybrids--from "we are combining the best traits of both species" which of course is absurd, to "they are only being produced for the pet trade," which is a fallacy as we shall see here.

It is easy for us to see a hybrid Ara macaw, for example, because of the distorted coloration. But in aviaries of breeding birds, I have encountered macaws with faint "ruby" (Greenwing/Scarlet) or mili-gold bloodlines in their past. Such birds may only show only one quarter of the original hybridization because they have descended from lines that were bred back to nominate species. This is where the real hidden long term damage of hybrid production "for the pet trade" enters the scene.

Amateurish breeders with few ethical considerations and even less patience will procure at low price a hybrid former pet, then pair it up for commercial breeding with the first candidate to come along.

"We are trying for new and different colors, I have been told." I find such reasoning shallow, and such odd colored parrots lacking in the symmetry and beauty that the gods initially gave them.

Of course, money is usually the bottom line when it comes to such ethical decisions as producing hybrids at a facility.

But , when one tries to disassociate captive and pet industry psittacines from those living in the wilds, merely because there is little likelihood that the former will ever be released to help repopulate dwindling numbers, I think one does conservation of these birds a real disservice.

Is it the role of the bird breeder to assume this disassociation and accordingly condemn all captive parrots, with their valuable gene characteristics, to a second rate role in world psittacine conservation?

I think not, and as an aviculturist who tries to propose conservation logic first--I would beg to differ with such a reasoning.

My role as I see it is to protect for the future; to save and guard and conserve all that is possible in my tiny little piece of captive parrotdom. And when it comes to hybrids, this means I will refuse to dilute any of my pure natural species for any minimalist reason--nor will I ever condone it amongst other true aviculturists.

We either face the fact that we are stewards of a precious god-given gift for the generations ahead, or we play at bird breeding and pay lip service to conservation in order to stave off the animal activists who might just see through our ethical ruse.

I hope this sheds some light on your inquiry. As I said, I am not the most capable person to answer this question.
Best, EB

[Editor's note: As Cathy Toft was noted in the above, we asked her to comment on this issue. Here is her reply.]

Dear Bill:

E.B. has taken a quote from me from one of the articles that I wrote explaining population genetics to aviculturists precisely for the reason of persuading them not to hybridize parrots in captivity. (A comprehensive summary is in Toft, C.A. 1994. The genetics of captive propagation: A manual for aviculturists. Special Publications of Psittacine Research Project, Number 1. Ann Brice, Ed. Department of Avian Sciences, University of California, Davis.) I also wrote several articles for bird publications and proceedings asking whether hybridization has a place in aviculture.

In many ways, I hold E.B.'s position. As a conservation biologist, ecologist and evolutionary biologist, I prefer parrots in captivity to stay as they are in the wild.

Originally, I took (and still take) the position that private aviculture holds a treasure in the form of established breeding populations of species that are threatened or endangered in the wild. I imagined what would have happened had the aviculturists in Europe had the foresight to maintain a population of Carolina Parakeets Conuropsis carolinensis for long enough, so that their offspring could restore this species to its original range in the United States. To do so would require a sufficiently large population and sound breeding practices. Importantly, the genetic architecture would still be in place to allow those individuals to survive and reproduce in the environments in which their ancestral populations originally evolved. Hybridization was not the only threat to achieving this goal, but it was certainly the gravest.

Since the early 1990's, my position has softened somewhat, or should I say, diversified. My colleague, Jamie Gilardi, has pointed out to me that as many parrot individuals live in captivity as in the wild. As E.B. says, by far most of those individuals would not be released to the wild and moreover could not survive there. Also, other threats to the feasibility of using captive-bred individuals to augment or re-establish wild populations have become clearer. One of those is the inevitable transfer of viruses from their original host populations to those of species that the viruses would never encounter in the wild. And, once established, these viruses will never be eradicated. This spectre of epidemic makes re-introductions all the more problematic.

For these and other reasons, I have changed my position on the domestication of parrots. Now, I say "Why not?"

For one, captive life is nothing like life in the wild. If aviculture develops lines of parrots more suited to lives with humans, then those individuals will lead higher quality lives. Perhaps parrots that are less jealous of their mates will be happier as pets—in their wild state, by far most parrots are life-long monogamous. This trait often results in their misery as pets, as well-meaning pet owners keep parrots each in solitary confinement or at least without a same-species companion so that the parrot will bond more to the human. Unfortunately, the human does not keep his or her end of the bargain and worse, objects to the parrot’s natural behaviors related to monogamous bonding with the human. Parrot with lower metabolic rates or different physiologies might fare better on captive foods, for example, not gain as much weight or need as much protein. Changing these traits is possible with "artificial selection" which humans have practiced for thousands of years to domesticate many species of plants and animals. And if humans practice this sort of captive selective breeding, then why not make the parrots look really different than their wild counterparts? As Rick Jordan once challenged me, why not breed a black macaw? Or a purple, pink polka dot macaw? Their appearance would hardly matter if domesticated parrots had other genetic traits suited for captivity but not for the wild.

Another reason is that espoused by my colleague, Nate Flesness, Science Director of I.S.I.S. Long ago Nate introduced me to the idea that connection with nature through animals in captivity was a good thing, even if there were tradeoffs involved, such as the domestication of parrots might create. After all, how many of us can travel at will to a rainforest in Peru to see parrots? Having parrots living in harmony with us in our homes is a powerful conservation tool that I am sure is appreciated also by the staff and members of WPT.

Yet, my bias would still be E.B.'s viewpoint. Why lose optimism that captive parrots can be released to re-establish populations in their native ranges? Jamie has told me about many, very successful ventures, quite a few supported by the WPT, to introduce captive-bred and confiscated parrots back to free-living existences. I am thrilled and heartened by these efforts. Although pristine, primary rainforest and other non-disturbed habitats are vanishing, parrot populations can nevertheless thrive in the presence of humans. Parrots are intelligent, social, and usually generalist in their habits. Released individuals can easily establish healthy populations in the presence of humans, provided that their chicks are not relentlessly poached for the pet trade. The increasing populations of feral parrots around the world attest to this fact. Poaching in the native range should decrease with a combination of legal bans (I co-authored a paper with Tim Wright and others that spoke to the efficacy of legal bans) and thriving captive populations of those species maintained to preserve their wild characteristics.

In the end, I encourage aviculturists to maintain their interest in and support of conservation. One important way that they may do so is to continue to breed parrots with practices aimed to maintain the genetic architecture of wild populations, just in case descendents from their lines may be needed in restoration projects. While I no longer denounce domestication of parrots, and I even encourage it, I see no reason why we should abandon conservation breeding. It is my hope that many parrot enthusiasts of all stripes will continue to support the conservation of wild parrots in any way that they can.

Cathy Toft
Professor Emerita
Department of Evolution & Ecology
Center for Population Biology
University of California Davis.

filed under: Ethics and Welfare

Dr. Speer, first of all, thank you for making yourself available to us. We appreciate it. Secondly, I have a question regarding my 15 year old patagonian conure, Luther. He's an adoptee and I've had him about 5 years. He's had recurrent sinus infections ever since I adopted him. I've had him to 3 different vets in my area and he's almost always on Baytril or some other antibiotic. In November of this past year I took him to a new vet and had lab tests done.They came back within normal limits except for these: Albumin LOW at 1.1 (Normal 1.2-3.2), Glucose HIGH at 381 (180-350), Potassium HIGH at 5.3 (3.0-4.5), and Chloride HIGH at 116 (90-110). Choanal cultures came back with a heavy growth of Coagulase negative taphylococcus spp. and a light growth of Pseudomonas aeruginosa. Sensitivity tests showed both to be sensitive to Baytril. He was put on Baytril again but within a few weeks he began having brown drainage from his nares, so I took him to a
different, actually his original, vet who is the only Board Certified Avian Vet of the three. He told me to hold the antibiotics for 3 days, then repeat the cultures, which was done. He also took an xray of Luther's chest. It showed an huge granuloma in the area of his syrinx. After testing Luther was started on sulfatrim (doxycycline, I believe) but continues to show symptoms that the granuloma is not diminishing because he makes wheezing sounds and his voice is hoarse compared to what it normally is. The vet told me on that visit that granulomas were almost impossible to get rid of. He also mentioned a procedure whereby he could remove some of the lesion which would also require putting an opening in one of his air sacs. (I have lost 2 birds this past year and am loathe to have this surgery done because I fear it will not go well. They were both elderly but I am still afraid for Luther since he's been ill so much.) So now Luther is getting the sulfatrim, fluconazole, and nebulization therapy twice a day with normal saline. But he still wheezes and has a hoarse voice. Once he finishes the antibiotics I am thinking the vet will want to do another xray, but am not sure. I wanted to ask your opinion. Also, are you
available for a phone consultation regarding this?

Answered by Dr. Brian Speer, DVM:

Cindi - it is probably a bit unethical for me to be making specific medical recommendations for your bird in this type of a forum, with the amount and number of veterinarians that have had specific hand's-on evaluation of him, whereas I have not. Always remember, however, that it is fair to ask your attending veterinarian to consult with another colleague, or to provide radiographs and medical records so that you can have them independently reviewed. This is something that we do at our practice on a daily basis for many bird owners and colleagues around the globe. But, we still are limited in that we cannot see, hear and actually handle the bird, and as such, can only consult from the side about what may or may not be present, what may or may not be significant, and what may or may not be appropriate to consider and/or do. The laboratory "abnormalities" you have mentioned are actually within acceptable normal limits, in my eyes, and those changes are likely insignificant. What I do not see, however is the recorded physical examination and the remainder of what WAS evaluated and deemed to be normal. Remember that choanal culture isolates do not necessarily have to equivocate to actual infectants in many ill birds, and it may be unfair to assume that these isolates are responsible for what you are assuming to be a granuloma in the area of your bird's syrinx. Many actual syringeal infections require specific endoscopic visualization for diagnosis and confirmation of their etiology - a procedure that I suspect may have been discussed with you. Overall, however, most syringeal granulomas that we see in parrots here typically are minimally evident on radiography, and one would have to wonder if this noted soft tissue density is actually outside the syrinx and pressing on that location, causing similar clinical signs too. There are, unfortunately, a number of tumors that are described in parrots in this location, producing significant vocal changes and clinical disease - but not necessarily a "granuloma" per-se. I would forward that many granulomatous disease processes can be treated successfully, depending on what their identified cause turns up to be, the manner of treatment, and their specific location in the patient at hand. At the risk of being inappropriate in this forum, you can find our practice website and contact phone numbers if you search Medical Center for Birds, should you be interested in a more detailed consultation here. The striking things here in my mind here remains: 1) the need for a bit more accurate diagnosis, 2) hopefully resulting in more accurate treatment options, 3) and a need to investigate the most optimal means with which to address the comfort of your bird, regardless of what the nature of the diagnosis turns up to be.(as well as along the path of obtaining this information)

filed under: Health and Nutrition

Can you suggest some good -- safe -- toys one can make for cockatiels? I have purchased many toys from the local pet shop, which are not only expensive but my 'tiels don't seem to like them very much. I suspect this is because they are intended for larger parrots, so would like some ideas for ways to keep my 'tiels happy. Thanks for any suggestions!

Answered by Kris Porter:

Hello and thank you for sending your question to WPT. I'm delighted for the chance to respond to this question as I had experienced similar challenges when our cockatiels and budgerigar came into our home. Personally, I have not found much success with parrot toys purchased from local pet stores. My cockatiels like chewing on natural branches, grass mats and small pieces of vegetable tanned leather. Recently I discovered I can peak their interest if I string some whole grain pasta pieces on a toy along with leather and plastic beads. They like crunching the dried pasta.

A mirror is a popular item for the budgerigars and cockatiels. I take a mirror purchased at the local pet store and attach a string of beads, small leather pieces and one or two small stainless steel bells to the mirror. This creates something for them to do when they are looking in the mirror, as they can spend time beaking the beads, chewing on the leather and they seem to like moving the bells to make noise.

For rope to use as a base to make toys or add beads and other items of interest to a toy, I prefer to use small natural hemp rope (found at most craft stores), or the 1/8 inch vegetable tanned leather strips. I have also used paulie rope that is sold at online parrot toy sites, however you do need to check that frequently as that product can fray and catch toes. The same is true for some cotton ropes. No parrot toy or parrot toy part is 100 percent safe, but I have not had the fraying problem with the hemp rope or leather that I have had with paulie rope and cotton ropes.

For added enrichment you may find success with placing a shallow plastic container in the bottom of the cage to create a foraging experience. I explain how I taught my cockatiel to forage and show a video of how to create this foraging experience at http://www.parrotenrichment.com/foraging.html.

Leaf bathing is another activity that my small parrots enjoy. Hang wet greens (mustard, collard or turnip) from the top of the cage. There is a video demonstrating this activity at ParrotEnrichment.com. You can also weave greens in between the cage bars for them to chew on.

Many people have had great success with clicker training the smaller parrots. Most parrots enjoy clicker training and it is a wonderful means of providing enrichment to your bird. I think training is often overlooked when we consider forms of enrichment, perhaps because some of us think of training as a discipline and overlook the fun side of training. At ParrotEnrichment.com I have devoted a few web pages to training. There are lists of resources as well as videos to help you get started with clicker training.

Both Version 1 and 2 of The Parrot Enrichment Activity Books are available for you to download free of charge at ParrotEnrichment.com. In The Parrot Enrichment Activity Book, Version 2, you will find several ideas for toys and how to create foraging opportunities for smaller parrots such as cockatiels, budgerigars and lovebirds along with photos of the parrots foraging and playing with the toys. Both books lists sources for you to find products and parts to make many of the toys you will see there and on the website.

Thank you again for your question and for providing me the opportunity to offer suggestions.

Kris Porter

filed under: Housing and Environmental Enrichment

Hello. I have a friend who has a 28 year old female patagonian conure. This bird has been sick for about a year with her main symptom as vomiting up large amounts of clear mucus intermittently. She appears to be gagging on it. Her beak has also gotten soft at times, has overgrown requiring trimming, and she has extra folds of skin inside her mouth on both sides, at times. She has been to 3 different vets in our area and no one seems to know exactly what is wrong with her. She's currently on Baytril and Fluconazole because the last vet did bacterial and fungal cultures, and blood tests, finding a moderate amount of pseudomonas aeruginosa (sp?) and an elevated aspergillus galactomannan. She seems to be withering away before our very eyes, sits puffed up and almost appears gray in her feathering. This treatment regimen doesn't seem to be working and we don't what else to do. Can you give me any advice on this? Thank you.

Answered by Dr. Brian Speer, DVM:

Dear Cindi - Your bird is certainly ill and in need of an accurate medical diagnosis and treatment regime.

First up, I would suggest that you ask your current attending veterinarian if they would be willing to refer you to a qualified colleague, hopefully a certified specialist, for further evaluation, diagnosis and treatment. At 28 years of age, there are a vary very large number of problems that could be potentially of concern here. In general, regurgitation of mucus and weight loss would be suggestive of an upper gastrointestinal issue that may require far more than simple blood tests and aerobic cultures in order to diagnose. It is not uncommon to need radiographic imaging, and even dynamic fluoroscopic imaging, plus or minus endoscopy in order to establish a diagnosis. Possibilities of some chronic infectious disease issues, some forms of cancer, gastric foreign bodies or combinations of these all remain distinct possibilities here. The presence of an elevated blood level of Aspergillus galactomannan, alone is far from a clear diagnosis of the disease, Aspergillosis, and the described clinical signs here tend to make me suspicious that at-best, Aspergillosis if present is far from the only disease process present.

filed under: Health and Nutrition

Dear Phoebe, We have a 17-year-old female dusky headed conure, Pickle, whom we love very much. She has always been a highly "interactive" bird, craving the company of me (female) and my partner (male). She also has enjoyed spending some time inside her "precious." which is a chest of drawers. However, her behavior changed radically about a month ago. She has started spending almost all her time inside the chest of drawers, exhibiting nesting behavior by creating "nests" out of shredded clothes. She comes out only to eat, drink and go potty. Even weirder, she recently switched her preferred drawer. When I take her out, she leans toward the bedroom and tries to make a dash for her drawer. My avian vet checked and said Pickle is not carrying an egg. And my partner (her "mate"?) has been out of town for a week, but Pickle's behavior hasn't changed. I don't want to stress or traumatize her. She does sleep in her cage at night. I am very concerned that Pickle will be "stuck" in her nesting behavior and not come out of it.

Your expert advice would be greatly appreciated. I have been a WPT member for quite a few years, but I never knew about this Ask an Expert feature.
Thank you. Arlene

Answered by Phoebe Green Linden:

Hi Arlene, Thanks for writing WPT and welcome to our “Ask the Expert” feature. I’m delighted to read about your loving concern for Pickle, a mature highly interactive female dusky-headed conure, Aratinga weddellii, and glad that she went to the vet. I presume that she is healthy in every regard. Also, some eggs are palpable only right before they are laid, so Pickle could still have one or more eggs in process.

All of Pickle's time inside "precious" is, indeed, precious to her because it gives her the chance to behave like a biologically real parrot. Now that the days are getting longer, her efforts will undoubtedly increase. It’s not too weird that she changed her preference from one drawer to another. Based on observations of the wild Amazon parrots of Santa Barbara (http://www.santabarbarabirdfarm.com), we see parrots religiously work a particular nest site only to abandon it for another. Perhaps a disturbance encouraged Pickle to move – perhaps you "cleaned out" the first drawer –- or perhaps Pickle was ready for something new.

Either way, it’s not unusual for a fixed-up site to be abandoned and sometimes that ends the laying right then. Other times, a new site is selected and a new remodel begins. We use this abandon-one-site and select-another-site propensity to divert companions from laying or to slow down excessive laying.

At 17, Pickle is definitely biologically mature, but like many mature psittacines, she has not yet laid eggs. However, with time and access to a viable nest, it’s not surprising that she’s exhibiting what we humans call “nesting behaviors.” Parrots might call these "shredding fun stuff in a cozy places" behaviors because not all parrots who build nests end up laying eggs. They just like making places.

For instance, our flock comprises two proven pair of African Grey parrots (Psittacus erithacus). They are retired, so they no longer produce or incubate eggs or raise chicks, processes that formerly took up most of their time. In retirement, they’ve discovered new hobbies and because they have ground in which to dig, and neighbors who do the same, the two pairs dig and dig and dig every day. They also shred pine, deforest millet, destroy banana bark and pulverize cotton rope toys. Every day, they make elaborate soups, and every evening they practice solos, duets and quartets. They make big messes, talk about everything a lot, have sex whenever they feel like it, feed each other and, after a full day, snuggle on perches that afford them ease and privacy. The removal of their nest boxes disallowed eggs and parenting behaviors, but alternate behaviors are greatly increased.

A great way to focus Pickle’s attention towards non-reproductive place-making would be to offer her a variety of places to explore and various substrates to pulverize. If you don’t want her to go all the way through laying, you might be able to non-stressfully change the environment in ways that she values so that egg-laying becomes ho-hum compared with what’s new. However, it might also be too late in her cycle this time around for this level of diversion, so we’ll discuss what to do if she lays, below. In the meantime, think about making some future places for Pickle that are conducive to shredding and privacy, but not necessarily laying.

Additionally, not all parrots who lay eggs incubate them. Pickle might lay a nice little clutch only to be done with it. In all cases, your companionship with her need not change except to deepen.
Parrots like Cella, (Eclectus roratus vosmaeri) seek a nest, make it nice, lay eggs and incubate them but give up the eggs when don’t hatch. Pickle could do the same. Therefore, an element of "wait and see" accompanies this new phase of Pickle’s behaviors and your reactions to them.

Generally, psittacine hens lay eggs at 24 hour intervals until their clutch is complete. Conures lay between 2 – 5 eggs per clutch, sometimes more. Incubation begins when the last egg is laid and for conures occurs over 21-23 days.(Clinical Avian Medicine and Surgery, Harrison and Harrison, Appendix 5 by K. Flammer, pg 663.)

Another consideration is Pickle’s overall athleticism. Please be sure Pickle regularly exercises because we know that parrots who are in good shape are better equipped to lay eggs than over-weight, under-nourished or sedentary birds. Therefore, when she’s not nesting, encourage Pickle to fly if she’s flighted. Or to flap, climb, run and walk if she’s not flighted. I bet she’s happy to run to precious, for instance.

Regardless of whether or not Pickle lays, your relationship with her can and should continue to grow and deepen. In fact, now that she’s shown you her new talent for place-making, you can get creative. That’s what Cella and I have discovered.

Cella, mentioned above, is 24 and incubates 2-3 clutches a year. When she’s incubating her eggs, I ask her to fly or run back to her nest because other than digging and shredding, she doesn’t get much
exercise during egg time. When she’s not nesting, she exercises more which we both enjoy. Her privacy box is a cardboard box fashioned to her liking and suspended in her large macaw-sized cage; she incubates each clutch, during which she thoroughly attends the eggs, cooing and clucking with absorptive attention. After about 32 days, she leaves the box and ignores the eggs, so I remove all in order to give Cella a break from nesting, which lasts a few months, and all is well.

During the break, Cella exercises, takes lots showers, chews up stalks and stalks of millet and is in every way a delight. Until it’s time to do the place-making again. When the break is over and she wants another box, Cella starts pacing inside her cage. Outside it, she intently seeks out any dark place in which to scratch and hide. She’s been known to scurry and freeze deep inside the pantry, run out of reach behind cabinets and hide silently underneath the dishwasher.

As soon as Cella gets a new parrot-appropriate box – even if she cannot immediately get inside it – she stops pacing and hiding and becomes intent on place-making. When I say the box is fashioned to Cella’s liking, that’s partly true because some of the box is fashioned to ensure her health and safety. Because Pickle and Cella do not get to experience feeding and caring for chicks, which takes 10 - 12 weeks, they might cycle before their calcium and other supplies adequately replenish. Too many eggs can deplete them. So, if Cella starts signaling that she wants a box too soon after finishing the last clutch, or by the year’s third clutch, I make a box that challenges her. It might have a really teensy entry hole (1/2”) through which she’ll peer before she chews it large enough for entry. Plus once she makes the hole, she finds the box stuffed with materials that need to be shredded and excavated. Then again, just as in the wild, some disturbance might occur with that site (think big storm, high winds) that necessitates Cella starting again with another – imagine this – even better site.

If you want Pickle to continue in the dresser, you can make that site more challenging for her to access and more creative once she gets there. For instance, will she climb a ladder to get to precious or go through a parrot-friendly agility course? The more action-packed, the more Pickle-appropriate materials that surround this series of events, the more creative your shared flock environment becomes. Of course, if she lays and incubates, the flock will ensure she has a serene and stable environment with plenty of flock attention. Until, that is, she’s ready for something new.

All best,
Phoebe Greene Linden

filed under: Behaviour and Training

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